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Scheduling Work Flow

Scheduling Work Flow

Scheduling Work Flow

I am a independent engineering consultant working for various companies (owners, architects,contractors and fabricators) as a structural engineer. I'm not sure anyone will have a clear answer to this, but I am wondering how other design professionals handle their potential work flow?

Since I am out on my own I constantly have to be working to develop new project, complete existing project and make my necessary site visits. I find on the front end, from time to time, I will be told that I am awarded a project only to have the project put on hold for a variety of reasons. This then requires me to go looking for more work. Then at the least opportune time the project will be released and I will then have too much work to complete. On smaller jobs this problem is easy to work out (work that takes less than a week to complete), however on large projects (projects that take 2+ weeks to complete) this can cause some real problems.

-Pushing work away (Telling a client I don't want a project isn't good for business as well) causes cash flow issues when the potential project is delayed for extended periods of time of the project is canceled all together.
-Telling the clients I can't meet their deadlines because of work scheduling issues isn't good as well.

Hiring someone is just not an option as that completely changes the dynamic of the situation.

I have taken a balance approach between items 1 and 2 but I am wondering if there are better solutions out there.

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

I've just accepted feast or famine as coming with the territory.

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

Unfortunately that's kind of the game we play. Seems like things always come in waves. Lately it seems like every time I finish one item, I have two more crop up. Certainly better than not having any work, but can be stressful. Virtually all the jobs of ours that cooled off or went on hold last year came back at the same time this spring.

Most luck I've had is just being upfront with clients. If I can't do it right away I try to let them know beforehand rather than just be late. Most are understanding that I'm just swamped and don't see me being busy as being a negative (it means I'm in demand, likely for a reason). And if I end up being able to do it when they wanted then great. Much better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way around.

I've also had a fair amount of luck getting clients to prioritize what they want and when. Everybody starts with wanting the entire package right away. But when faced with getting the entire package at a much later date vs part of the package at a much sooner date, most clients are willing to tell you what they really need now. Sometime it really needs to be a single package, but often it does not.

If the client can't stomach either of those then I have to make a decision on who I want to keep happy. For me the clients who fall into this category often aren't very good clients. Fairly frequently people who need designs from me with such urgency don't display that same urgency in making sure we're compensated for that effort.

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

My company uses Microsoft Project which I find very user UNfriendly. I download smartsheet as a trial and that seemed to work well, but I don't really know a lot

If you are offended by the things I say, imagine the stuff I hold back.

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

I am not a consultant, so I am asking as much as suggesting. Could you require a certain percent down payment to reserve a consulting rate for a job you were awarded? If the client declines to lock in the quoted rate by a certain time, they may end up paying a higher rate when demand increases.

I used to count sand. Now I don't count at all.

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

Complicated contract terms just result in a muddled mess. Down payments usually don't happen. We have default wording in our quotations stating that the quotation is only valid for a set period of time (30 - 60 days usually), and stating that scheduling is first-come, first-served subject to availability upon receipt of order. The reason for the first is to try to mitigate the possibility for a whole bunch of quotations to hang around forever doing nothing and then all come through at the same time. The reason for the second should be obvious.

Even so, a good portion of the time, the phone rings, "We have something we need you to look at. How soon can you get here?" and all such attempts at time management go out the window. There are times when I want to say "your failure to plan ahead, is not my emergency" ...

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

I would suggest balancing your workload through a combination of formal project management/planning via MS Project or similar and creating a network of local acquaintances you can trust to outsource your overflow to during busy times.

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

I like CWB1's idea. See if you can develop a working relationship with another local engineer where you partner on the others overflow or help augment each others skills to reduce your workloads.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://www.facebook.com/AmericanConcrete/

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

I should agree with what BrianPetersen suggested: quotation validity 30-60 days.

And perhaps an additional wording which should run as :" after the end of quotation validity, the price / lead time terms are subject to new confirmation at the time of project maturity" (or smth like that anyway...)

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

I have the wording in my proposal about my proposals only being good for 30 days. I rarely enforce the requirement. Most of the clients I work with are repeat customers so I think strict enforcement wouldn't go over well. Also, I am talking about the project where you submit a proposal, it is accepted and then the project is put on hold by someone above my client (usually the owner). So with acceptance of the proposal would void the 30 day clause.

I never take a retainer. My bad business practices gives me the flexibility to tell a client to buzz off.

My networking is severely lacking, it's a real issue. I do have another engineer I work with but he is unreliable (when I last tried to call him he had yet to even start work at 1:00 pm). Part of me wishes I started this consulting business with a partner, but that was just not an option (see beginning of this paragraph).

RE: Scheduling Work Flow

Quote (SteelPE)

I have the wording in my proposal about my proposals only being good for 30 days. I rarely enforce the requirement. Most of the clients I work with are repeat customers so I think strict enforcement wouldn't go over well.

We're kind of the same. It's a judgment/business call. The period in our standard proposals is 60 days. If you come talk to me at 61 days there's about a 99.99% chance I'll hold the fee. If you come talk to me in 1,061 days then there's a pretty low chance I'll hold the fee.

Quote (SteelPE)

Also, I am talking about the project where you submit a proposal, it is accepted and then the project is put on hold by someone above my client (usually the owner). So with acceptance of the proposal would void the 30 day clause.

May want to look at including language along the lines of 'if project is stopped after work progresses or proposal is accepted for a period exceeding X months, engineer retains the right to adjust fee'. Probably talk to an attorney familiar with your jurisdiction first. May be some special language to include to make sure it's in compliance with local law (assuming the concept in general is legal where you are).

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